If ever J’s mother had watched Pinky and the Brain, our recent, brief conversation about the new Equalities Bill might have gone a little something like this:

Her: “Have you heard about the equalities bill, Pinky?”

Me: “Yes – what are we going to do about it, Brain?”

Her: “The same thing we do every time we get annoyed about gender issues, Pinky – try to take over the world!”


Unfortunately, however, I don’t believe she’s familiar with the cartoon, which means that such a scenario will never happen. The scenario that actually happened was similar, up to and including the part where we try to take over the world. I maintain that it could happen, and apparently she’s coming round to the idea, because last night she requested that I start drawing up our manifesto – apparently our tyranny will spawn from the existing democratic model!

Anyway, I mention her now, not because I’m planning on taking over the world in the imminent future, satisfying though that might be, but because, but for that conversation, this post might never have happened.

According to the BBC:


“Many employers will be made to reveal how much they pay men compared with women, under the Equalities Bill.
Firms employing at least 250 staff would be required to publish average hourly rates for men and women by 2013.”


Many employers? Not by the ONS numbers. As of 2008, out of the 2.16 million registered businesses, only 0.4% of companies were employing 250 or more staff. Or, to put it another way, for every 1000 businesses registered, only 4 of them will be required to publish their average hourly rates.

Contrast that with those businesses employing less than 10 staff: 89%. Even if you assumed that every one of those businesses was employing just 2 people, that’s over 3 million employees. Add in the further 9.1% of businesses with 10-50 employees (and assume they all have only 10), and the 1% of businesses with 50-250 employees (and assume they all only have 50) and you have a total of over 6.8 million workers. Does the government really think that targetting that miserable 0.4% that makes up the “large company” category is actually going to help? For the numbers even to be equal, every single one of those (8,640) large companies would have to employ 797 staff. Realistic? I think not.

And, to be honest with you, it’s easy to manipulate numbers, if you know how. Does the government propose to lay out in detail the manner in which the records must be kept? Which “average” are they going to use? Arithmetic mean – add them all up, and divide by the number of employees? Median – put all of the hourly rates in order, then find the one in the middle? Mode – find the rate that’s paid most often?

That these don’t give the same answer is obvious when you consider even five wages. Say you had a kitchen. You might have one Head Chef (£20), three chefs working for him (£10) and one pot-washer (£5). Well, if you take the mean of those wages, you get £11. If you take the median, you get £10, and if you take the mode, you get £10. So, if you wanted to make it look as though you were paying your staff more, you might use the mean. If not, you’d probably use the median.

But what if you had two kitchens? The first would be as above. But in the second, you might have a different Head Chef, and only pay her £17, but pay the three chefs underneath her £11 each. You’d still get a mean of £11. But you’re not paying the male Head Chef and the female Head Chef the same wage. And you’ve just successfully disguised that fact.


The story continues, and on the subject of gender inequality, it doesn’t get much better.

Harriet Harman has said that businesses will have until 2013 to voluntarily publish the data.

With quotes like this:

This is a further example of unnecessary regulation at a time when companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are struggling to survive” from Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors (and, by the sounds of it, part of the Department of Administrative Affairs), I think I’m permitted to feel a little skeptical.

It’s heartening to know that such an august gentleman might, like myself, have trouble with his eyesight. Probably quite severe trouble, actually, since he seems to have confused the word “large” with the words “small and medium-sized”. I suppose I should recommend my optician to him.


On the other hand, never let it be said that I pick on only the negatives. The bill, in broad terms, is heartening in its consideration of other discriminated groups – in particular, the working class and the elderly – and the BBC has had no trouble in placing sentences for maximum irony:

“Ministers want older people to pay for services, such as insurance, based on the actual risk they face, rather than an arbitrary age-based cost. This has the backing of charity Age Concern and Help the Aged. However, the Association of British Insurers has denied its members’ policies are unfair, saying they simply take account of risk.”

Indeed. arbitrary age-based costs are not arbitrary, but simply take account of risk. In other news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.*

So: do I like the bill? Well, roughly speaking, yes. I’m pleased with efforts to address inequalities, even as I feel that some policies could have been better thought-through, or better explained, or both. It may well be that those who are writing the bill have taken into account the kinds of concerns that I have mentioned. They might even have thought of things that I haven’t. But until I can find more than a rough outline of the bill, I’m stuck with critiquing what is here.

Do I think it will help? Perhaps. It depends on how co-operative companies are with the legislation.

Do I think it’s necessary? You know, I could write a whole other post and more about the necessity of legislating what privileged groups won’t do by themselves. But the short answer is this: when you have a white male director general of five male executive directors being quoted in a serious publication on the subject of inequality, of course it’s fucking necessary.


*gratuitous 1984 quote. If you haven’t read it, go and do so, please!

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Check me out! In a fit of organisational triumph, I’m posting a reminder before an event – go me!

To celebrate, this post will remain at the top of the page until I decide to take it down – most likely next Monday.

Million Women Rise is this Saturday, in London. More details at the MWR website. If you’re going, have fun. I will personally be in London that day, although it’s unlikely that I’ll be in the crowd, sadly. Consider me there in spirit.

If you’re not heading down to London, you have no excuse for not turning up to the vigil in Sheffield city centre, at the war memorial by the City Hall. Not even if you’re in another city entirely. I, of course, am exempt from this sweeping judgement, as I will at least be in one of the cities concerned. I hope to aquire the badge that says “tyrant” in the near future. Anyway, see here for more information.

That’s my organisational genius exhausted for now. Tomorrow evening, I shall do what I do every night: try to take over the world!!!

It’s Carnival time!

Over on A Second Thought (hey, we’re all good with gratuitous self-reference here!) I tend to refer to the place as my own, virtual pub, with myself as sole proprietor – which is great, because that means that for the first Carnival of Feminists of 2009, the virtual drinks can be on me! Happy January everybody, and thanks to everybody that sent in reccomended reading.

I’m not the most organised of people, and didn’t specify any particular themes. Which meant that I got a whole host of great, wide-ranging submissions, and had to try to classify them. And, of course, I did this in the most logical and least time-wasting way possible… with the cunning use of lolcats!

Roughly speaking, we’re talking Science here, which means we range from articles that are actually about science to ones which merely go crazy with the number-crunching:

Veronica at Girl With Pen writes eloquently on Why We Need a Scientifically Literate Citizenry.

“Science is portrayed as the only field that uses big words… and thus intimidates many to think one needs to be a rocket scientist to be well, a scientist.”

Greg Laden in his eponymous blog talks in great length about  The Natural Basis For Gender Inequality.

Barry Leiba at Staring At Empty Pages does the number-crunching in Women, millitary academies, and sexual assualt.

What we worship, how we worship it. With a little social commentary thrown in, for good measure.

Lindsay from Female Impersonator writes about  Gendered Language and Early Christian Thinkers in part 4 of an ongoing series.

The Professor from Professor, What If…? asks herself: What If You Could Buy Social Justice (part 4 – the Church of Disney).

Jender, writing at Feminist Philosophers, provides the only social commentary entirely unrelated to worship here: On Tomboys.

Yep, some feminists get angry. And looking at the posts below, you can see why.

Genevieve from Une Femme Plus Courageuse gives us a Question Based On Usual Blog Patterns

Steph sends in a post from …Or Could Be Again about one guy’s opening words: I Don’t Mean To Be Weird Or Gross But…

Jane Doe from Written On The Body tells us Alanis in OK Magazine: Hopefully this is all a misunderstanding

Brianna J at Fourth Wave Feminism posts about  Male Authenticity

On parenthood, and who gets what share of the dirty work.

Renee at Womanist Musings writes about The Easy Bake Oven In My Vagina: The Role Of The Good Mother

Bad Mom, Good Mom posts about Virginia Woolf in You Call That A Feminist Icon?

And finally, a Feminism 101 category!

Renee from Womanist Musings is back, and on the subject of  The Illegal Hijab

Nandita sends in a post from Cold SnapDragon about A Guard At Kotla Ferozshah. I’m using my host’s perogative to also reccomend the latest post, A Rape-Defense World, because it goes very well with:

Marcella’s post at abyss2hope on Understanding and Misunderstanding Genuine Consent

Lindsay from Female Impersonator appears again to point out that Fashion Is Not Political News, part 3 – Catty Bitch Edition

Lastly, I had a late submission from Robin Reed from the National Women’s Law Center. It’s a video post by Melanie Ross Levin, one of her colleagues, which I didn’t want to include without a transcript, but luckily, it’s short, interesting, and she sent me a nice email about it!

“Hi, I’m Melanie Ross Levin with the National Women’s Law Center and I’m so, so happy to report that the House of Representatives just passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.  This is huge news that we should all celebrate! Now the ball’s in the Senate’s court to do the right thing by women and pass both of these important peices of pay equity legislation very quickly so that President Elect obama can sign them in his first few days in office. Take a moment to write to your senators to make sure that they know that these acts are important to you. Information on how to do that is available on our website. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done so far to help pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. I can’t wait until they’re signed by President-elect Obama and we can really celebrate!”

And that concludes the Carnival for this time. There’s been so many good posts to read, I can only assume that you’ve all decided that I don’t really need to pass my exams!

Submit an article to the next Carnival of Feminists using the Carnival Submission Form, and check out past editions and future hosts here.

First of all, thank you to Thefems, who have kindly allowed me free rein over their shiny new website. They are awesome.

Writing here has its own issues, though. On my own site, I can talk about the things that interest me in any way that I choose, secure in the knowledge that it is my own space. On a collaborative website, though, things get a little tricky.

Partly this is because the Sheffield Fems as a group don’t have one single collective opinion on anything. I cannot and will not ever claim to be writing on behalf of the whole group, because we always see things differently. Which makes us almost like a little model of what feminism is about, I suppose.

With that in mind, anything written by me as an individual will be just that – an individual response. And so, to business.


Islam

The BBC and the Guardian both reported yesterday on Professor Amina Wadud’s leading the Friday prayers to mark the start of a conference on Islam and feminism in Oxford. (The Guardian also has an interesting Comment Is Free article on the issue. Since it is in the CIF section, I’m issuing a Risk of Rage warning – you do always get the good, the bad and the ugly commenting there.)

It’s an intriguing situation all round, with the kind of quotes you might expect; on the one hand,

“This is something divine not human. We have to do it in the way it has been ordained by God to do it. Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead.” – Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

and on the other,

“We believe Islam is a gender-equal religion” – Dr. Taj Hargey, Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre Oxford (MECO).

Dr. Hargey also cites an example in which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) allowed a woman to lead a mixed-gender service.

Perhaps the most interesting point that was made was the reference to Catholicism made by Mokhtar Badri:

“I also don’t think this is a subject confined to Islam. Even in Christianity Catholics still don’t accept female priests”

Frankly, I’ve always had higher hopes for Islam than for Christianity. Although there is always room in religion for patriarchal norms to take over, at least Islam has a better starting point. You’d never find Catholics claiming that theirs was ‘a gender-equal religion’.


Abortion

Moving away from religion a little, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is raising its head again. As mentioned in a recent meeting, now is the time to try to make a difference.

It’s interesting to note the different approaches to the story given by the Guardian and the Telegraph – not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. I was told recently that the USA doesn’t have newspapers that are so openly affiliated to one political leaning or another, but that they all seek to maintain a conservative status quo – and present this as being unbiased. Of course, this only makes me appreciate British newspapers more – how better to practice freedom of speech than to have a system whereby you can read whatever version of reality suits you best?!

I don’t really want to go into the minutiae of what each paper has said and why. Suffice it to say that where the Guardian categorises its article under Health, Politics and Women, the Telegraph categorises it under Religion.


USA

And lastly, a few days late but still worth noticing, given the topic above, is the American news on abortion, and other women’s rights, with pre-election dramas being played out everywhere you go online, and some pretty angry bloggers. I don’t want to try to regurgitate what’s been said, because there’s a hell of a lot of it, but have links:

From Hoyden About Town: Third Debate Thoughts, and Video of McCain’s air-scarequotes “health of the mother”

From Alternet: McCain Mocks Women’s Health

From Fourth Wave Feminism: Debate Summary

This last post wasn’t made in the context of the recent debate, but instead talks about two form letters that a woman recieved after writing to each of the candidates in turn. Although not strictly on-topic, it’s well worth a read (and indeed, I recommend Fannie’s Room in general for her “political, social and homo writings for which the first amendment may or may not have been intended”).

From Fannie’s Room: Maybe My Definition of Straight Talk is Different